Hey Man, These Small Changes Have a Big Impact on Your Health
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we all became more aware that our health can’t be taken for granted. If you’re looking to take more control, Gary Gilmond, MD, an adult primary care physician at University of Vermont Medical Center’s Primary Care practice in Essex, shares seven steps that men can take for better health.
1. Get Moving
Even at the height of the pandemic, the most lethal threat to most men wasn’t the virus – it was their heart, regardless of their race. “Heart disease is the biggest killer of men,” says Dr. Gilmond. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that heart disease killed 357,761 men in 2019 in the U.S. – and half of men that die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms.
Regular exercise is important because your heart is a muscle, and like any muscle it needs to work out to stay strong. A healthy heart keeps blood pathways clear of blockages which reduces your risk of heart attack. Dr. Gilmond says just 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise – activity that gets you sweating – is great for your heart and reduces the risk for other contributing health conditions, like high blood pressure. Take a brisk walk around your neighborhood or hit the trails – but get that heart pumping.
2. Eat Green
Just like exercise, nutrition is a big part of your health. Foods high in fat and cholesterol cause blockages in your heart and arteries. And those blockages can trigger heart attacks and high blood pressure. When picking your next meal, go green; plant-based fats can help clear out animal-based cholesterol in your heart and arteries. Dr. Gilmond says a daily fish oil pill rich in omega 3s is a good idea, too. But, if you’re pairing your greens with meats, “pick things that walk on two legs, not four” says Dr. Gilmond. Fish is also an excellent choice.
For more omega-3 healthy fats, try adding these ingredients to your grocery list:
3. Increase Your Screen Time
Stay on top of regular health screenings to detect health issues like cancer. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S. and third leading cause of cancer-related death in men. The good news? Colorectal cancer is preventable with regular screenings. New guidelines suggest that starting at age 50, men should be screened every year. Talk to your primary care provider about your screening options.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, with one in eight men in the U.S. diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. Are you suddenly urinating more? Does it hurt to urinate? Is your back suddenly and constantly in pain, but not from work or activity? Talk to your primary care provider if any of these symptoms sound familiar.
4. Just Quit
Quitting smoking significantly reduces your risk of lung cancer, but also reduces your risk of heart disease and heart attack. Plus, quitting smoking will improve your ability to exercise, which helps you manage your diet … it’s a win-win-win. Need some guidance or smoking cessation support? Talk to your primary care provider who can help get you started with tobacco cessation programs and even medication if you need it.
5. Clean Between Your Ears
The pandemic has worsened the mental health crisis in the U.S., even among children. But men face a greater risk due to their reluctance to seek mental health care. The unhealthy and antiquated “tough it out” approach that ignores stress, anxiety and depression has stigmatized mental health treatment. According to a study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health, “Depression and suicide are ranked as a leading cause of death among men. Six million men are affected by depression in the U.S. every single year. Men die by suicide at a rate four times higher than women.”
“We don’t ask people to muscle through diabetes,” says Dr. Gilmond. Mental health is no different, and a healthy brain is key to a healthy body. Talk to your primary care provider – or any medical professional you trust – about your options.
6. Make Your Shot
COVID-19 Vaccine: If you haven’t gotten a COVID-19 vaccination yet, do it, says Dr. Gilmond. COVID-19 is a devastating virus that has killed nearly 600,000 people and infected tens of millions in the U.S. alone. And the effects of an infection, for some, are long lasting even when their initial symptoms are mild, and can have debilitating effects.
Flu Vaccine: Dr. Gilmond highly recommends adding the annual flu shot to your list. The flu, especially for older men, can be very dangerous, even deadly. The flu is especially fatal for men with a history of heart or lung disease.
Pneumonia Vaccine: Dr. Gilmond recommends this vaccine for the same reasons as the flu and COVID-19 vaccines.
Tetanus Booster: Tetanus is bacteria found in the soil, in rusty nails or other low-oxygen environments. Tetanus attacks the nervous system, there is no cure and an infection can be fatal.
Shingles Vaccine: Dr. Gilmond recommends the shingles vaccine for those age 50 or older. It is essentially a booster against chicken pox and can save you from a very painful rash. Vermont currently has a program that helps pay for a shingles vaccine for people 60 to 64 years of age. Take advantage before going on Medicare, which does not cover as much of the cost.
7. Talk to Your Doc
If you don’t have a primary care provider to help you navigate your health, the UVM Health Network can help you find one. Better health can improve personal relationships, your work, even how well you sleep at night; a primary care provider can be your gateway to that healthier lifestyle. “This is what we do,” says Dr. Gilmond. “We take care of people.”